Interview. Andrea Fumagalli is an economist at the University of Pavia and a member of Basic Income Network Italia. ‘Nowadays, the wealth that our daily lives are creating is outside all control and is flowing into the largest rents. No part of these rents comes back to the territory that generated them.’

Economist Andrea Fumagalli: Citizenship income must be separate from welfare or labor policy

On Sunday, the M5S relaunched their proposal for a regional law reinstituting the “citizenship income” in Campania. Regional president De Luca was noncommittal, but he has also spoken about an “inclusion income.”

We spoke with Andrea Fumagalli, professor of Economics at the University of Pavia, about the proposal.

Beyond the substantive differences between these proposals and others such as that of the Special Committee set up to examine a “regional supplementary measure,” why is there such a multitude of different formulas on the matter of income support for the poor, precarious or unemployed?

This is a historical problem affecting social policies in Italy. Social safety nets multiply just as the deregulation of the labor market increases and the fragmentation of society grows. Instead of instituting measures that would tend to be single and universal, partial measures are set up on the basis of different contract types, as has happened with the various existing forms of the layoff compensation fund, or based on criteria relating to tax, wealth, age or family status, as is the case with poverty benefits. The more the number of measures grows, the more selectivity and inequality increase.

This is not the first time that regional laws on a basic income have been discussed. What are the precedents?

There are a few of them around today. The most interesting examples date back some 15 years, in Lazio and Campania. Absurd as that may sound, those early formulations were more advanced than the current ones. The one in Lazio had lower conditionality criteria, i.e., it allowed the beneficiary to refuse a job offer that did not match their qualifications or residence and required that the salary for the new job should not be lower than that of the previous one. Today, however, we are moving more and more into the domain of workfare policy. The proposed law in Campania follows the same rules as the old “citizenship income” and fits into this trend.

The M5S, like De Luca himself, are aware of the limited resources available to the region and are arguing that when these come in from the central government, they should go to those who have been excluded from the Meloni government’s “inclusion allowance.” Paradoxically, isn’t this likely to lead to more being excluded because of the state-of-exception approach?

In one of the most poverty-stricken regions, this situation is unfortunately the effect of a serious political decision. While it is true that a region cannot make up for the lack of resources from the central government, it should be made clear that the resources do exist if they wanted to find them. According to Oxfam’s Tax the Rich campaign, one could tax the incomes of billionaires and get 13 to 15.7 billion euros a year.

What about at the regional level?

Financial constraints are being felt more and more, partly because the amounts coming in from Rome have been greatly reduced. Looking ahead, differentiated autonomy will make things worse, especially in the South. But there is an alternative.

What is it?

Regions could issue a supplementary currency that has no liquidity or stability constraints, does not replace the euro and increases the potential for public spending. It would be guaranteed by the institutions and could be able to develop an alternative economic circuit so that social policies, including the basic income, are guaranteed. There are positive examples in Europe: the B-Income in Barcelona. Trials are being run in the Netherlands and Helsinki.

On Sunday, in Naples, former House Speaker Roberto Fico (Five Stars) said that when the M5S will return to government, they will restore the “citizenship income.” You are one of Italy’s leading basic income theorists; what would you advise them to do if that comes to pass?

I think it’s important to start from solid ground. Any income support policy should not be considered an active labor policy. These are two separate areas. Income support should be thought of as a remunerative activity, not merely welfare or work inclusion. Nowadays, the wealth that our daily lives are creating is outside all control and is flowing into the largest rents. No part of these rents comes back to the territory that generated them. This is a major political issue.

How can one do something about that?

We need a reform of the resource transfer processes from the center to the regions, appropriate tax reform, and taxation of digital platforms based on the number of users and revenue generated, like a tourist tax but expanded to all activities that take advantage of metropolitan and social agglomerations that power network, learning and relational economies.

Is this a viable prospect today?

It’s not something that can be achieved immediately. Nevertheless, we need to start. Both trade union and political forces on the left and at the grassroots level should start focusing on this problem.

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